Illegal, Dangerous, and Discriminatory

A tweet by California’s Governor Newsom.

Over the past five years, there has been a growing case against the use of lethal injections under the death penalty. In 2014, Clayton Lockett’s case garnered international attention for his execution that lasted 1 hour and 44 minutes from the time he was strapped onto the gurney to be killed. Using a drug cocktail never before used in American executions and banned by veterinarians due to the amount of pain it potentially causes, the administers also struggled to find a vein, leading to the injection entering his soft tissue. He writhed in pain for 43 minutes before dying.

According to Mother Jones, “Historically, lethal injection has been plagued with problems just like those that occurred in Lockett’s case…Physicians have mostly left the field of capital punishment; the American Medical Association and other professional groups consider it highly unethical for doctors to assist with executions”. This leaves untrained professionals to the task of administering these dangerous drug cocktails, putting the comfort and safety of those being executed at risk.

Oklahoma has been exploring new methods of execution using nitrogen gas, but it does not escape the crux of the human rights violations. In Oklahoma, they are having a discussion about what is the safest, easiest method of execution. However, the conversation should be a refutation of the concept of a death penalty. It is in violation of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), in Articles 3 and 5. The death penalty violates a person’s right to life and the right to freedom from being “subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. While the UDHR does not explicitly condemn the death penalty, the death penalty does prohibit a person’s right to life and fair treatment. The death penalty has become an inhumane, degrading method of torture that is used in 30 US states.

In the words of California Governor Gavin Newsom, “people think eye for eye, but if you rape, we don’t rape”. On 13 March, 2019, Governor Newsom announced a moratorium on the death penalty in the state. He called the death penalty an “abject failure” that plays to discrimination and is plainly immoral.

Californian voters have twice attempted to end the death penalty in the state, once in 2014 and once in 2016. Both initiatives failed in close votes. In 2016, though, a separate proposition successfully called for the speeding up of the end of the death penalty. California has the most inmates on death row.

Despite the fact that no inmates will be released due to this moratorium, there has been backlash, particularly from President Donald Trump, who pulled out of the UN Human Rights Council in early 2018. Trump has advocated for increased use of the death penalty, even for drug dealers. In response to Gov. Newsom’s moratorium, President Trump tweeted: “Defying voters, the Governor of California will halt all death penalty executions of 737 stone cold killers. Friends and families of the always forgotten VICTIMS are not thrilled, and neither am I!”.

Studies have also found there there are significant percentages of death row inmates who were wrongly convicted. A study in 2014 found that of 3,000 inmates on death row, there are probably 120 who are not guilty. In addition to the moral failings of the death penalty, both a lack of proper evidence for conviction and the ethical violations the penalty incurs, the ACLU reports that the death penalty also does not deter crime. From their website: “States that have death penalty laws do not have lower crime rates or murder rates than states without such laws. And states that have abolished capital punishment show no significant changes in either crime or murder rates”.

The death penalty is neither fair nor effective. It is biased, unnecessary, and illegal. The American Medical Association has taken the stance that “a physician must not participate in a legally authorized execution”, as physicians are responsible for “preserving life”. The state is responsible, as well, for preserving life in a different form. It is the protector of its citizens, meant to improve their lives and keep citizens safe. The death penalty is a complete contradiction of this principles. The state is not meant to kill; the state is meant to be better than its worst citizens. In the words of Governor Newsom, “We’re better than that”.

Note: Protocol Magazine is now using the font ‘Josefin Slab’.

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